Saudi woman is arrested while attending soccer game, claims she didn't know it was prohibited

A Saudi woman arrested while attending a soccer game in the kingdom claims she did not know women were prohibited from going to the male-only stadiums, the state-linked Okaz newspaper reported on Monday.

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict segregation of the sexes and has no designated areas for women at soccer stadiums, though authorities have announced plans for "family" areas from where women can watch matches.

However, there have been exceptions for foreign women. In October, an Australian female supporter of Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club was permitted to attend a match at Riyadh's main stadium. And in January, a group of American women traveling with members of U.S. Congress watched a local soccer club match, also in Riyadh.

The arrested woman, whose name has not been made public, said she bought a ticket online without any problems and attended Friday night's game in the Red Sea city of Jiddah's new al-Jawhara stadium. The game was between Jiddah's al-Ittihad and Riyadh's al-Shabab.

Police spokesman Atti al-Qurashi said security spotted her at the stadium "deliberately disguised" in male attire to avoid detection, reported the state-linked news website Twasul.

Okaz reported Sunday that police questioned the woman, who is in her twenties, for "impersonating" a man by wearing pants, a long-sleeve top, a hat and sunglasses. Most women in Saudi Arabia cover their hair and face with a veil known as the niqab and all women are required to wear a loose black dress known as the abaya in public.

The paper said the woman has been in police custody since Friday and is being held at a center for girls in the western province of Mecca. No charges have been raised so far.

Ultraconservative Saudi clerics shun female access to exercise and women's teams are not part of the kingdom's federation that oversees sports. Women often struggle to find facilities to train and are not allowed to attend matches in stadiums.


Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.